January 13, 2020
Don’t Learn to Play Every Style – Learn to Adjust
(By Larry Hodges)
Many players believe that they need to learn to play every style. Well, according to my calculations, there are as many playing styles as there are players in the world. No, you don’t need to learn to play every style.
It’s true that it’s helpful to understand how to play the major types of styles. Note how I said understand. That’s because a tactic that works against one player of a particular style might not work against another of that general style, and if you don’t understand the reason for the tactic, you’ll have trouble adjusting to many players. For example, most choppers are weak in the middle, around their elbow area where they have to transition from backhand to forehand and vice versa. (Most players are weak there, but choppers more than most.) But some very defensive choppers have learned to cover well over half the table with their backhand chops, and so if you go to their apparent middle, you give them an easy chop. Instead, you’d need to go toward their forehand side, where their true middle is. If you don’t understand the reason for going to the middle, then you wouldn’t be able to adjust to this chopper, especially on the fly in the middle of a match. (It’s after the match that you’d realize what happened and would pound your head in frustration.)
No, you do not need to know how to play every style. What you need to learn to do is adjust to any style. It should take you one or two rallies to have figured out where the true middle of that defensive chopper described above is. But if you blindly played the middle because that’s how you are supposed to play choppers, it might have taken you a lot longer to figure it out, if you ever did. I’ve seen entire matches at relatively high levels where strong players never did figure out such seemingly obvious things because they were blindly going with conventional tactics rather than understanding and adjusting them for a given match.
Your job early in a match – or before the match, if you can scout the player or ask others about him – is to figure out how to play this player. Try forcing your own style on him, but with adjustments for how he plays. If you make this a habit, it becomes easier and easier, until it’s basic instinct. And when tactics become almost instinctive, that’s when you can most easily let yourself go and play in the zone.